If you’re looking for a draft grade from me, here it is: A-plus. That’s for the Eagles’ 2016 draft class, not the group that was taken this past weekend.
I like to wait three years before assessing a draft class, and that 2016 crew delivered five players still on the team and helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl. They are Carson Wentz (first round), Isaac Seumalo (third), Wendell Smallwood (fifth), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (fifth), and Jalen Mills (seventh).
Additionally, seventh-round linebacker Joe Walker was on the practice squad last year and sixth-round pick, Blake Countess, remains in the league as a safety with the Los Angeles Rams. The only real miss was Alex McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end.
This year’s class has the potential to become an A-plus, and that’s not being overly optimistic, even though much of this draft was about Carson Wentz.
The Eagles found a bodyguard for a franchise quarterback who hasn’t been able to finish a season due to injury since his rookie year. Trading up three spots to take left tackle Andre Dillard from Washington State was a great move for the Eagles, who had him ranked as the top 10 overall talent on their draft board.
Then the Birds gave Wentz two more skill position players in the second round, picking Penn State running back Miles Sanders 53rd overall and Stanford wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside four picks later at No. 57.
Sanders (a player Howie Roseman talks about in the attached video) should have a big impact this season as he rotates with Jordan Howard and possibly Corey Clement. Arcega-Whiteside looks like an Alshon Jeffery clone – a big-body receiver who is a threat in the red zone, an area in which the Eagles struggled somewhat last year, finishing 17th in the league.
Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside should not only help in the short-term, but they are two skill players who can grow together with Wentz.
Even in the fifth round, when the Eagles took a quarterback, it was with Wentz in mind. The Birds need to make sure they are at least trying to develop someone who could eventually become the backup behind Wentz if current No. 2, Nate Sudfeld who is signed only through 2019, does not return in 2020.
Drafting Shareef Miller in the fourth round was also a move that could help sooner rather than later. Miller has some technique to work on and depending how quickly he is able to pick it up, could be in the rotation on the outside for at least a handful of plays to start the season. Hassan Ridgeway arrived in a trade when the Eagles gave up their 246th pick to the Colts to bring in another defensive line piece, a 24-year-old former fourth-round pick from 2016 that has 4.5 career sacks already.
The fact that there were only five picks made by the Eagles, following up a 2018 draft where only five players were taken, is somewhat a concern as the Eagles try to build depth into the next decade while trying to find cheap, successful rookie contracts in order to give Wentz a huge dal as well as sign other significant free agents going forward.
One thing I particularly liked was the character of the player the team brought in especially on a weekend where one of the highlights – and not in a good way – was an audio that surfaced that revealed Kansas City Chiefs running back Tyreek Hill threatening violence to his wife and son. The Chiefs under Andy Reid have become known recently for putting talent above character.
Character counts in this Eagles organization. It is talked about all the time by executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman, vice president of plyer personnel Joe Douglas, and head coach Doug Pederson.
Here is what Douglas said on Friday night, after the Eagles took Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside within four picks of each other in the second round: “Him and Miles, two of the highest-character guys in this draft, so that separated them from a few guys.”
The grade for this class isn’t in yet. It is promising, but check back in 2022.